The perfect Instagram photo: textured, bright, and blue

You work so hard to capture that perfect Instagram shot. You crop it, select the best filter, and wait for the likes to roll in. But you get nothing. Not a single heart. Not one measly comment. Before writing off your friends’ terrible taste in photos, new research shows there’s a science to creating a much-loved Instagram photo.

You really can't go wrong with an ocean photo on Instagram.

The most important factor in maximizing your Instagram likes is including texture in your photos, according to a study of 30 features across 8 million Instagram shots from image analytics firm Curalate.

It turns out that Instagram shots with contrasting textures—materials, foods, etc.—garnered 79 percent more likes than smoother (more boring) images. People also prefer photos that are dominantly blue 24 percent more than red—and you can get more likes with an image that emphasizes one color. A photo of the ocean? That’s Instagram gold.

But there’s only so much you can do to attain Instagram celebrity status.

“Half of photos on Instagram receive less than five likes, so don’t feel bad when you post and don’t get very many—you’re like the majority of us,” Curalate CEO Apu Gupta told TechHive. “That made me feel better about my Instagram posts.”

Users that get hundreds of likes are in the top 1 percent of Instagram users—and they probably work hard to get there.

News that brands can use

Instagram is slowly, cautiously rolling out ads in user feeds that look a lot like regular Instagram shots. Companies are curious about what Instagram users like, because that information can help them get ad clicks.

Michael Kors was already one of Instagram's biggest success stories, racking up tens of thousands of likes per photos, and the company decided to become the network's first advertiser. Its debut ad garnered 230,000 likes.

Curalate analyzes images across the Internet to help marketers at major brands like Neiman Marcus, Gap, and Swarovski figure out what people click on—and what they want to buy. But just because the firm has turned up hard data on what people respond to on Instagram doesn’t mean companies can coolly calculate the way to your photo-loving heart.

“At the end of the day, creativity is always going to trump science when it comes to imagery and when it comes to driving engagement with consumers,” Gupta said. “If you’re a creative director, my short answer is to you is: Your job is secure. But I do think there are some guidelines. Having some sense that it isn’t just completely random, that there are some factors at play that humans respond to, it’s helpful to know.”

If six seasons of Mad Men have taught us anything, it’s that companies have been playing to our subconscious desires in advertising for decades. Instagram is just another visual way to appeal to our wallets.

Below is Curalate's research in a handy infographic:

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